Copyright catch-up

April 18, 2003

Iain Stevenson (Letters, THES , April 11) describes the claim that mid-20th century authors may never go out of copyright as "ridiculous", but US corporations are already lobbying for a further extension of copyright. This would no more be "unworkable" under the Berne Convention than previous extensions have been.

German copyright was set at 70 years postmortem to allow for the disruption caused by the Third Reich. This temporary effect was later held to justify a permanent extension of the copyright term throughout the rest of the European Union. A similar catch-up logic (with the US?) will surely be used to promote future extension of copyright?

Stevenson's defence of the status quo would be more convincing if he, or any other senior figure in the publishing world, were prepared to stand up and say just what they think the ultimate limits of copyright should be. Or is it simply a case of how much, at any particular time, the rights-holders can get away with?

Patrick Parrinder
School of English and American Literature
University of Reading

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